Press Release
July 16, 2017

*Speech of Akbayan Senator Risa Hontiveros before the So Ano Na? People's Forum, July 16, 2017, Bahay ng Alumni, University of the Philippines-Diliman

Magandang umaga sa ating lahat!

I would like to thank the organizers of this event for inviting me here. I was asked to present the state of women and health under President Rodrigo Duterte. I would like to start by saying that despite all the difficulties and challenges, despite the political persecution and hostility, I am proud to say that it is the minority Senators who work hardest in the Senate. In this regard, I am happy to tell all of you that in the span of just one year, yours truly, and with the help of my fellow Senators who are here right now, have passed three very important bills on third and final reading: 1) The Revitalized Anti-Hospital Deposit Law, which will protect patients from abusive hospitals, 2) the Expanded Maternity Leave Bill, which will provide women workers 120 days of paid maternity leave and 3) the Mental Health Act, which aims to provide comprehensive health services to all people with mental health needs. This is inconstestable proof that despite not being part of the majority, we have not lost sight of our duty to pursue measures that matter to people's lives in very real and specific terms. Mga kasama at kaibigan, tagumpay natin ang lahat ng ito!

However, among these victories is the shadow of death, violence, impunity, sexism and misogyny. For this reason, please forgive me if I diverge a bit from my assigned topic and discuss these issues that we confront everyday.

The theme of this event is enthralling. It arouses interest and provokes discussion about the real state of our country under President Duterte. So ano na? So ano nga ba ang nangyari sa loob ng isang taon? We are here not only to ask that question, but to look beyond the veil of what this present government would have us believe - that this has been a good year. They would have us believe that the year that has passed was a year we can be proud of. And while there were some important gains, thanks to our collective efforts, nothing, in my view, could be farther from the truth.

This government's bloody war on drugs has claimed 8,000 to 12,000 lives based on the different tallies from the government and human rights groups. Many of these deaths, at the hands of extrajudicial killers, remain unsolved. Korean national and businessman Jee Ick Joo was murdered by police inside their own national headquarters in Camp Crame. The Department of Justice (DOJ) downgraded the charges of those accused in the killing of Mayor Rolando Espinosa from murder to homicide. And recently, no less than the President himself ordered the reinstatement of Police Superintendent Marvin Marcos, the police officer who led the team implicated in the killing of Espinosa in his jail cell last year. This is despite the Senate and National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) concluding that the death of Espinosa was premeditated and a clear case of extrajudicial killing. For those who still deny that there are state-sanctioned killings, to the EJK deniers, here is your damning proof.

This government anchored its campaign on a single electoral promise - the promise of peace, safety and security for the masses and the common Filipino. This has proven to be a false promise. Instead, it has left thousands dead in its wake, and thousands more shattered and broken. While big-time drug lords such as Peter Lim and accused human trafficker Jack Lam roam free, and the drug trade shows no strategic signs of slowing down.

"Unli-Martial Law"

We have also been threatened with "Unli-Martial Law." Ang tingin ni Presidente Duterte sa Martial Law ay parang "unli-rice." Ang Kongreso naman tila parang isang carinderia. Kahit wala pang order ng Unli-Martial Law, handang-handa na ito ibigay sa pangulo. Straight out of a dystopian novel, Duterte and his apologists want Martial Law to be the new normal. They think Martial Law is a magic antidote that will address all of the country's woes. This government thinks it is a "silver bullet" for delivering peace and order.

Worse, I'm afraid that President Duterte's Martial Law in Min has largely contributed to the growing climate of Islamophobia in the country. The recent survey on the President's declaration of Martial Law in Mindanao said that while 57% of Filipinos support martial rule, the majority also opposed expanding the declaration to the Visayas and Luzon. Ano ang tinuturo nito sa atin? Okay lang ang Martial Law basta para lamang sa Mindanao na tila tinuturing ng marami na magulo, at basta para lamang sa mga kapatid natin na Muslim na tinuturing na iba na mga terorista?

Okay lang ang Muslim-only ID card? Okay Lang na pagsarhan ng pinto ng mga nagpapaupa ang ating mga kapatid na Muslim na naghahanap ng masisilungan na malayo sa giyera? What the Maute terrorists have failed to accomplish, Duterte's Martial Law has delivered. We now live in fear of one another. We bombed our own people and even our brave soldiers. We treat other Filipinos as second-class citizens. We even destroyed the very city we promised to save.

Misogyny and "Hokage culture" of public officials

Moreover, a climate of sexism, misogyny and political persecution has found new mouthpieces and apologists. The crime of rape has been trivialized. Women, particularly those holding positions in government, have been reduced to body parts, and catcalling and wolf-whistling are being passed off as compliments. Utang na loob pa nating mga babae na gawin sa amin ito?! Philandering and adultery have been defended by no less than the President himself. Recently, the despicable " Pastor Hokage culture" of posting and sharing obscene photos of women and children online reared its ugly head. To be honest, I wasn't surprised. Why? The Hokage culture was alive and well in the halls of Congress when it attempted to a show a fake sex video of Senator Leila De Lima. The "Hokage" culture is also solidly embodied by no less than the President himself who has singlehandedly driven to unparalleled extremes male chauvinism, misogyny and sexism.

Our democracy has fallen so far in so short a span of time. Fake news has been deployed as a vicious weapon to obscure the truth and justify wrongdoing and questionable conduct. Many of our democratic institutions, which were meant to ensure transparency and accountability to the public have been rendered mute, fallen strangely silent, and abandoned their duty.

Paano ito nangyari sa atin? At paano ito hinayaang mangyari?

I said in a different gathering that the first year of the Duterte administration was a dangerous year to be a woman. It was a year of endless mourning. It was a year of resurgent misogyny and endless killings. It was a dangerous year for ordinary Filipinos. It was a "year of living dangerously."

"Rising authoritarianism"

We are witnessing the rise of authoritarianism. It is modern-day Philippine autocratic governance, ironically borne out of free and democratic elections. It has little or no regard for the rule of law and civil liberties.

It is a rising authoritarian regime distinctive in its palpable hatred and persecution of women leaders who dare stand up to blatant disregard for democracy. It is Marcos-inspired, yet, tries hard to be different. Through a political process known as securitization, the president has transformed the issue of illegal drugs and crime into the primary threat to the safety of Filipinos. They then use this to justify the deployment of extraordinary measures. Marcos did this before when he elevated the communist insurgency to the same primary threat level. Now, Duterte's "communists" are drug users and pushers.

We cannot allow this to continue unchallenged. All progressive, reform-oriented and democratic forces must close ranks to build a viable and sustainable political and democratic opposition to President Duterte's rising authoritarianism. With democracy, justice, and human rights threatened, the creation of a broad "movement of democrats" becomes our collective duty. This should be the main agenda of the political opposition.

"Defense of democracy should be a struggle for a new and better democracy"

In order to mount a better and more effective opposition to this new form of authoritarianism, we must undergo a process of deep and serious reflection. In our struggle to defend democracy, we must recognize that we cannot go back to the old ways of doing democracy. I think this is one of the crucial lessons presented by these challenging times. Truth be told, the rise of undemocratic rule is the result of the failure of elite democracy and reforms constrained by the limits of what has remained to be a largely traditional political system. If we want an effective defense of democracy, we must offer a better form of democracy. Our defense of democracy is a better form of democracy. Let us remember, the people's embrace of authoritarian shortcuts is a sharp critique of the kind of democracy we now have. Ang kailangan natin ay isang bagong uri ng demokrasya na tunay at makatarungang ipapamahagi ang yaman ng bansa sa lahat, isang bagong demokrasya na may hustisya na hindi nabibili ng mga mayayaman at ma-impluwensiya, isang bagong demokrasya na kayang igarantiya ang kapayapaan at kaligtasan ng mamamayan ng hindi sinasakripisyo ang ating mga karapatang pantao at sibil. The struggle for a new kind of democracy, I believe, too, is an important agenda and vision for all those in the political opposition.

Friends and fellow travelers, now is not the time for meek submission, not while innocent lives are slain, hopes are extinguished, and the promise of peace and order is instead stained with bloodshed and grief. Now is not the time to bow our heads and stay quiet. Now is the time to remember why we fought for a democracy so many years ago. Now is the time to fight for it again.

We will continue to be the voices of reason amid this madness. We will defend truth and fact amid lies and deception. We will defend human rights when so many in this government are so willing to abandon these principles in the name of political survival or convenience. And we will call for calm and the rule of law when others rush to rash action behind a cult of personality and violence. We will be better. When people choose to forget, we will remember. We will remember that people are innocent until they are proven guilty. We will remember that the power to govern a nation rests in its citizens and not on the vanities, temper and pride of any single man. We will remember that democracy means working with other nations and upholding the just treaties that bind us to them in friendship and common cause. And we will remember that love of country means defending what is rightfully ours especially against those who would take it from us and pretend to offer friendship but threaten war instead.

And we will carry this fight wherever it needs to be fought - in the halls of debate and legislation, in that nebulous contested battleground called cyberspace, in classrooms and schools which mold the hearts and minds of our young, and in the streets of this country where so many before us have made the highest sacrifice. We will defend democracy wherever it needs to be defended. We will struggle for a new and better democracy wherever it needs to be changed.

Ipaglaban ang demokrasya! Isulong ang bagong demokrasya!

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